Combining rebellion and revivalism, scientific precision and imaginative grandeur, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood shook the art world of mid-nineteenth-century Britain. In autumn 2012, Tate Britain will stage a major survey of the group which sets out to show that the Pre-Raphaelites constitute Britain’s first modern art movement. Bringing together over 150 works which combine famous and lesser known Pre-Raphaelite paintings with sculpture, photography and the applied arts, this exhibition will highlight the ambition and broad scope of their revolutionary ideas about art, design and society.
Led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, the Pre-Raphaelites rebelled against the art establishment of their day. Their unflinchingly radical style, inspired by the purity of early Renaissance painting, defied convention, provoked critics and entranced audiences.
Today, known for their exquisitely detailed, vividly coloured style, the works of the Pre-Raphaelites are among the best known of all English paintings, and yet they have sometimes been dismissed as mere Victoriana or pure escapism. Tracing developments from their formation in 1848 through to their Symbolist creations of the 1890s, this exhibition will show that whether their subjects were taken from modern life or literature, the New Testament or classical mythology, the Pre-Raphaelites were committed to the idea of art’s potential to change society. In pieces such as Madox Brown’s The Last of England 1852-5 (Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery) they served this aim by representing topical social issues and challenging prevailing attitudes. In other artworks including Burne-Jones's King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid 1884 (Tate) a different approach is at work as they embraced beauty and ornamentation as a resistance to an increasingly industrialised society.
Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde will offer the chance to see well-known paintings such as Ophelia 1851-2 (Tate) by John Everett Millais (1829-1896) and The Scapegoat 1854-5 (National Museums Liverpool) by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910). Highlights of the exhibition will also include masterpieces rarely seen in the UK such as Rossetti’s Found 1854-5/1859-81 (Delaware Art Museum, USA) and Burne-Jones Perseus series (Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart), as well as those which are rarely loaned such as the grand social panorama, Work 1852-65 (Manchester Art Gallery) by Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893). Spectacular mature works by Hunt, Millias, Rossetti and Madox Brown will also be united for the exhibition.
In contrast to previous Pre-Raphaelite surveys, this exhibition will juxtapose paintings with works in other media including the applied arts, showing the important role of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the early development of the Arts and Crafts movement and the socialist ideas of the poet, designer and theorist, William Morris (1834-1896). Bringing together furniture and objects designed by Morris‘s firm, of which many Pre-Raphaelite artists were part, it will show how Morris’s iconography for British socialism ultimately evolved out of Pre-Raphaelitism. Highlights include Philip Webb and Burne-Jones's The Prioress's Tale wardrobe 1858 and the embroideries made by Jane and May Morris for William Morris’s bed at Kelmscott Manor c1891.
Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde is curated by Alison Smith, Curator (Head of British Art to 1900), Tate Britain; Tim Barringer, Professor of History of Art at Yale University and Jason Rosenfeld, Distinguished Chair and Associate Professor of Art History at Marymount Manhattan College, New York, assisted by Philippa Simpson, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain.